Speech for RTD 12716- Expanded Maternity Leave Law

Nutrition is imperative in a nation’s development and it is crucial in achieving a wide range of developmental goals. Any agenda for sustainable development should prioritize nutrition. This notwithstanding, malnutrition is worsening all over the globe. The Philippines in particular, has very alarming statistics. A study by UNICEF shows that 65.4% of Filipino children or about 4.3 million are suffering from long-term chronic malnutrition, and this has been blamed for about 1/3 of deaths of children below 5 years of age.


In the Philippines, 95 children die every day due to malnutrition. We bear this in mind as we open our Round Table Discussion on 100 Days Legislative Advocacy: Setting the Nutrition Legislative Agenda for 2016 and Beyond. Before moving forward with setting our legislative agenda, we should first establish the national situation of the nutrition status of children five years old and below. These are the crucial years when nutrition plays an important role in determining intellectual performance, health and even productivity throughout the child’s lifetime. Malnutrition impairs immunity and makes the child more susceptible to illness and subjects the child to a higher risk of death.


Two-thirds of deaths among malnourished children are associated with inappropriate feeding practices. Formula feeding within the first two years of a child’s life is culprit. Formula-fed babies are more likely to have respiratory problems, infections, diarrhea, vitamin A deficiency, allergies, and chronic diseases. They are also at a higher risk of becoming obese and have lower IQs than those who are breast-fed. But despite all of these, Filipino families still spend more on formula than on healthcare or education.


The Milk Code, which was introduced in 1986 carries the policy of promoting breastfeeding. It regulates the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, breastmilk supplements and other related products. It gives the DOH the power to restrict the marketing, distribution and donation of infant formula and breastmilk substitutes to mothers, the general public, health workers and health institutions.


There are some proposals to amend the Milk Code and ease the restrictions to donation, distribution and marketing of breastmilk substitutes, supplements and other related products. I must admit, there was a time when I felt that some provisions of the Milk Code may be too strict. I just gave birth four months ago and thank God I am still exclusively breastfeeding until now or else I might be sweating bullets for the duration of our RTD. I fear that if I had not been able to breastfeed, I may be judged. I sometimes feel that some mothers who are not able to breastfeed are judged.


I actually had been advised my doctor not to breastfeed. I was taking numerous medication that are contraindicated for breastfeeding but I insisted on breastfeeding for at least the first week of life so that I can give the colostrum to my baby. I had to stop my meds to be able to do so. I fell in love with the bond that I felt with my baby while breastfeeding her and I practically begged my doctor to continue to breastfeed her. I am so happy that even until now I am able to do so…although I am not sure how long I can continue this. I have stopped taking some of my meds and I do not know for how long I can stop them. I will do all that I can to be able to sustain breastfeeding as long as possible. I hope that if I do need to stop breastfeeding breastfeeding advocates would understand.


Aside from sickness, another hindrance for mothers to breastfeed their babies is that they have to return to work. That is why I am looking forward to the enactment of the Expanded Maternity Leave Law. Upon the enactment of this law, mothers who underwent normal or C-Section/Ceasarian section delivery will both enjoy 100-days maternity leave. Additional maternity leave of 30 days to be considered as unpaid, may also be granted under the condition that the employee provides early written notice of 45 days before the end of her ordinary 100-days maternity leave.  Once the bill becomes a law, the Expanded Maternity Leave Law will cover all government and private sector employees. Under current laws in the Labor Code only 60 days for normal delivery and 78 days for C-Section is mandated.


During this Round Table Discussion we will have the chance to discuss policy proposals and identify policy gaps and options. We also hope to assess the varying levels of engagement of stakeholders in the area of nutrition.


Our Round Table Discussion today is quite timely as we are approaching the 2016 National Elections. I join you in pushing for a particular focus on nutrition and the right of mothers to adequate attention to their nutritional needs from pregnancy until thesecond year of their babies’ life. I hope that by the end of this RTD we may be able to develop a legislative action plan to harmonize initiatives across various stakeholders involving nutrition in 1,000 days. I also hope that we will be able to develop policy recommendations that will make nutrition related issues a focus during these up-coming elections and in the next Congress.


Thank you.